Which Protein Foods Are Best for Weight Loss on a Low Carb / Keto Diet?

This article is about which protein foods are best for weight loss on a low carb or ketogenic diet, and builds on the previous article, where I outlined that what makes a diet ”low carb” or ”ketogenic” is how much carbohydrate it has, not how much fat it contains.

I’m not sure where the idea came from that eating a low carb or ketogenic diet for weight loss should include piles of bacon,  bulletproof coffee, fathead pizza and ‘fat bombs’. Perhaps it originated with advocates of eating such a diet which is offset by extended periods of fasting, or by the use of the very term “low carb high fat” / “LCHF“, itself. As explained in the previous article, a low carb diet is higher in fat and protein, because the amount of carbohydrate is reduced — and this is necessary for the the body to be provided with adequate amounts of essential fats and essential amino acids (that make up protein) in order to function properly and make any glucose it needs.

Note: if you haven’t yet read the previous article, I’d highly recommend clicking here and reading it first, as it will help considerably with understanding this one.

As mentioned in the preceding article, some “LCHF” diets that target higher protein may be as high as 50-60% fat — which is considered “high fat” compared to the 30% of calories as fat recommended by previous and current food guides. Other some variations of a low carb diet that target protein may have considerably less fat; depending which protein foods are chosen, and whether fat containing foods that are not rich sources of protein (such as avocado and olives) are also included. In either case, a low carb or ketogenic diet that targets protein will have significantly less than the 75% calories as fat of the high fat versions.  The fat eaten on a low carb or ketogenic diet which targets protein will come from fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardine, the fat that exists in the lean portions of chicken, pork and steak, in egg and cheese, as well as in nuts and seeds, avocado and olives. What is (pardon the pun) essential is for people to ensure is that they eat foods that contain the two essential fats (linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid) and the nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), including histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine that the body can’t manufacture. 

Combined List of Essential Nutrient-Containing Foods

In the previous article, I outlined which foods of animal origin and vegetarian origin are the best sources of each of these essential nutrients and that list should be referred to when selecting specific foods containing these, but combining those into one list, the following taken as a whole are good sources of the essential nutrients for those following a low carb or ketogenic diet:

  • pork
  • beef
  • lamb
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish, including tuna
  • shellfish
  • cheese, including Parmesan
  • nuts, including walnuts 
  • pumpkin seeds and flax
  • eggs
  • soy protein
  • whey protein isolate
  • seaweed
  • tofu
  • legumes and lentils
  • spirulina

For those seeking weight loss, it makes good sense to choose foods with the most amount of protein for the least amount of energy (calories). Up until recently, figuring this out would have required lots of calculations, but Dr. Ted Naiman, a board-certified family medicine physician who practices at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington has made this easy. Along with William Shewfelt, Dr. Naiman recently published an online book titled The P:E Diet – Leverage Your Biology to Achieve Optimal Health.

Protein to energy (P:E) Ratio

“P:E” is simply the Protein to Energy ratio of a food and Dr. Naiman who is well known on social media for his excellent infographics makes choosing foods with the most amount of protein for the least amount of energy (calories) easy.

from The P:E Diet – Leverage Your Biology to Achieve Optimal Health, available at http://thepediet.com/

Referring to Dr. Naiman’s P:E ratio enables the sorting of the foods available on a low carb or ketogenic diet and which contain the essential nutrients, into those with the highest protein to energy ratio:

  • whey protein isolate
  • egg white
  • fish, including tuna
  • prawns
  • chicken breast
  • other poultry, including chicken legs, turkey, etc.
  • plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • ground beef
  • pork
  • steak
  • whole eggs
  • soy protein
  • tofu
  • processed meat such as bacon
  • cheese, including Parmesan
  • lentils
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • beans / legumes
  • nuts

Calculations will still need to be done for other meats such as lamb and goat,  and other types of seafood, but this list provides a good means to select foods that have the highest protein to energy ratio.

Low Carb and Ketogenic Diets Include a Range of Fat Intake

In the previous article, I mentioned how a well-designed low carb or ketogenic diet may have in the range of 50-60% calories as fat, but selecting foods with a higher protein to energy ratio (such as egg white and non-fat Greek yogurt) will provide less fat and few calories (energy) than choosing whole egg and Greek yogurt that is 5% fat. Doing this consistently will result in a significantly lower amount of fat yet it is still a low carb or ketogenic diet because of the low amount of carbohydrate it contains.

Use of a higher P:E ratio makes sense for those who are seeking to build muscle mass or to follow a protein-sparing modified fast type of diet. For this, there is Dr. Naiman’s book (link in the References and above). For those seeking simple weight loss, eating whole egg and slightly higher fat yogurt may provide more satiety (feeling of fullness), albeit with higher caloric intake. Since each person’s reasons for wanting to follow a low carb or ketogenic meal pattern is different, which specific protein foods are best to choose in what quantities will vary, person to person. There is no one-sized-fits-all low carb or ketogenic diet.

Final Thoughts…

People following a low carb or ketogenic meal pattern for weight loss and preserving muscle mass should target protein foods with an optimal P:E ratio for their needs, which will likely fall somewhere between the highest P:E ratio (5.0) and those in the 1.0-1.5 range.

Regular inclusion of high fat foods with relatively low protein such as bacon, bulletproof coffee, fathead pizza and fat bombs’ is neither required nor ideal if weight loss is being sought.

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Naiman T, Shewfelt W, The P:E Diet – Leverage Your Biology to Achieve Optimal Health, http://thepediet.com/

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